Christy Gillmore

Christy Gillmore (Hakijamii the Economics and Social Rights Centre): Christy received her BA in Anthropology and Economics in 2006 from the University of Virginia. Upon graduating, she joined the Peace Corps in Mali, West Africa, where she worked to empower women in a rural community. After returning from the Peace Corps, Christy worked in refugee resettlement as a health care coordinator and caseworker. At the time of her fellowship she was pursuing her MA in International Development and Social Change from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. After her fellowship, Christy wrote: “I had never lived in a big city in my life, and this experience opened my eyes to the immense inequalities that are growing due to globalization and rural-urban migration. I feel that I gained invaluable skills and confidence. I feel like I have gained writing and editing skills. I know that I want to focus on human rights now that I have experience of working in the field."

Don’t Lose Sight

02 Aug

I have been following many of Nairobi People’s Settlement Network’s (NPSN) activities and sharing as much as I could about this incredible group (see blog entries A Living Saint, Eviction Task Force, and People’s Settlements, Not Slums). Now I’d like to highlight its current chairman, Humphrey Otieno Oduor, a man with an incredible story. Few people are able to go through what Humphrey has faced in his life and still manage to successfully dedicate their lives to social justice and equality.

Humphrey during individual interview at his office in the City Hall Annex, Nairobi, Kenya

Raised in Makongeni Estate in Nairobi, Humphrey moved to the people’s settlement (slum) of Kiambiu in 1996. After the passing of his father, his family was forced to vacate their home, as was the policy for the railway parastatal premise where his father’s job allowed them to live. Humphrey was forced to drop out of school and get a job. Like so many others had discovered, work was nearly impossible to find. Most people in the settlements make a living any way they can, selling secondhand items or food for pennies. Humphrey was desperate to provide for his family (6 of them after his father’s death), so he turned to the only possibility he saw: crime.

For years, Humphrey led a life of drug peddling, robberies, and carjacking. After losing more than 70 friends during that time, he could not bear to be involved in that life any longer. He finished high school and worked as a van conductor. The conditions in the settlements that had caused him to get involved in crime motivated him to advocate for change. He and other youth in his area joined hands to address issues affecting residents living in the settlement by forming a group known as Kiambiu Youth, focusing on environmental advocacy. With the help of various non-governmental organizations like Hakijamii, Humphrey was involved in the formation of NPSN in 2004. He is now the chairman of NPSN in addition to working for the National Youth Violence Prevention Network, both volunteer positions.

 Humphrey speaking at a meeting for the People's Budget. See Louis Rezac's blog entry "The People's Budget" for more details on this NPSN yearly activity.

Telling Humphrey’s story has caused me to reflect on the situation here in Kenya and the developing world more broadly. Nairobi is considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world, violence and insecurity an every day part of life for those in the slums. What causes these high levels of crime and violence? It’s not an easy question, and one that experts have been contemplating for years. It is not poverty by itself, as there are many impoverished countries that are peaceful and have low crime rates (i.e. Mali, where I lived for 2 years). Rather, it seems to occur when there are high numbers of impoverished people living in substandard conditions very near those who have plenty, which many Kenyans do. There is a lot of economic opportunity in Kenya, one of the main reasons for the large increase in the urban populations. Millions of people never make it to the Kenyan middle-class, though they see that life dangling right in front of them.

Humphrey wishes to see NPSN grow but not lose sight of its mission, as happens too often when donors begin contributing to a solid community organization. He hopes that people will continue to pressure the government to adopt adequate housing and land policies, as well as proper eviction guidelines.

To quote a short film I recently saw, Kibera Kid, “No matter how bad things get, you always have a choice.” Humphrey, to the benefit of many people and to Kenya, has made the right choice.

Posted By Christy Gillmore

Posted Aug 2nd, 2010

1 Comment

  • Christa Morse

    August 5, 2010


    What a great story of a person looking at the same situation through two very different lenses and ultimately acting on his good inclinations. So many of us aren’t brave enough to let our perspective truly shift and then act on it… inspiring! Also your commentary on the roots of poverty are really interesting, I had never thought of it that way. It definitely makes sense to think that when the injustice of poverty and wealth are held in such stark contrast, crime abounds.
    Hope your work is producing fruit! Peace.

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